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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Double Standard, Anyone?

The following is a post from the Mid-Atlantic Climbers' Coalition webpage, regarding access at the Catoctin Mountain Park, which was recently closed to bouldering:

“We are asking that climbers observe these restrictions to aid in our efforts. Demonstrating responsibility as a climbing community at this time will help make our case as we work to open up access in the future.”

How is it that these same principles of respect and responsibility do not seem to apply to the private property and crags of Franklin in WV, MACC?  You know, where you and your members have been climbing on private property without permission for years and where you continue to walk right past NEW, signed “No TRESPASSING” signs?
Double standard, anyone?
Was any portion of the recent Seneca Rocks Chilifest used to alert and inform climbers to this access issue?
How about Bridge (or, as I like to call it, "Let's all go shit in the woods at New River") Day?  Any round-table discussions there, between draining brews, updating your Facebook pages and slacklining, after spending your day trying to find parking and convincing yourself that you are actually observing LNT principles?
If so, there is no word of that on any of your websites...
If the Access Fund can't get the job done with the people it has in place, maybe it's time to replace those people with candidates who are both motivated and competent.
And maybe it's time for all those Access Fund members to start admitting that they really don't give a damn.
After all, they pay good money every year to be told what they should care about, and what isn't important.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hard Bark 2014

This is how it is.

I'm known to the climbing community as a curmudgeon; a grouchy bastard who seems to have little or nothing good to say about anything.  I’m tired and sore from about fifty-plus years of fairly adventuresome and demanding life, thirty-something of which have been spent becoming the the best carpenter and craftsman I could, working my way up from jackhammer-lugging grunt and rake operator to a foreman, eventually a superintendent, and working as a concert and theatrical rigger.  

During roughly the same period, I was doing everything I could to become the most versatile, well-rounded, impact-conscious, proactive rock climber I could possibly be. I learned orienteering and survival skills, was certified as an EMT and qualified as Field Team Member for Search and Rescue.

I came up during the ecological awakening of the late 60s and early 70s, and even without the massive sea-change of those times, environmentalism meant much more to a kid whose grandparents lived right out there, in the country, instead of in some suburban landscaper's dream.

You see, my people are the people who called the Skyline Drive their back yard before the country called it a destination. We're the people working those little stands in New England where our family farms used to be, before taxation without representation and tourists who couldn't give a damn about more than their itinerary plowed that legacy into the ground under the newest rest area strip mall in the name of progressive thinking.

We've been cleaning up behind the latest popular movement for about as long as you folks have been hiring other people to do that, building the roads you drive in on, establishing all those quaint communities whose fossilized remains you love to hike through without ever really seeing the sad descendants of the original settlers going about the lives your endless appetites have left behind.

All that aside, the forests are my first love, since long before puberty took hold of my endocrine system or Miss Cindy walked into my life like a sunlit thunderbolt.  I love the mountains and I revere the gifts we have been given, I believe, by a benevolent if sometimes inexplicable universe. It is and always has been my duty and my devotion to give back to the places that have cradled my broken soul.

So, for most of the past three decades, no matter how broke or exhausted or beat-up I was from days and sometimes weeks of brutal labor and long hours, I spent my free time looking for, finding, developing and (hopefully) sending new lines interspersed with sessions of repairing trail and picking up trash.

I’m further from the beginning of my climbing career than the end. 

And I am determined to make an impact on the future, beyond the lines I will leave behind and the trails I have built.  

My climbing partner, Doctor Goodwack, would say that I'm wasting my time. He might be right. He'd say that you're all worthless and weak, and that the ones of you that aren't are either too comfortable, too old and beat down, or too young and stupid to waste time or rope on.

He's got a lot of hard bark on him.  Hell, truth is, since I wrote this little piece the first time, I’ve grown an awful lot of hard bark myself; not from any one great wound, but from a thousand cuts of daily indifference, apathy and oblivion, spread out over the years.  

Some days, I doubt climbing, and certainly the mountains and forests, the wild places in which the finest climbs live, will survive in any recognizable form. 

But I still hope that we’re wrong. 

I'm betting on it, in fact, that's why I'm sitting here typing on a laptop, tossing out messages in a bottle to a generation that mostly doesn’t know or give a damn who I might be, instead of sipping coffee or cold brews or heading off on another adventure with the lovely brunette who calls me her husband.

Because I want you to know that I feel you out there; sitting on a bus, or a train, or in some airport lobby or library, at your desk or table or in your car, where ever, picking idly at your skinned knees or gobied hands while you read this, feeling the aches, or the Hunger, when there are no wounds, no aches.

So many of you have reached out through emails and phone calls, online messages and at the crags, over the years.  The response on Kickstarter was amazing and inspiring, a reminder of an energy I thought was lost.

Unimaginable as it may seem, I was one of you once, before all these miles and memories, these scars, all these years... all this hard bark.

I know you, because I was you.

I know that, even with this tide of pushing for high numbers and press attention, trying to milk bucks or swag or just a moment in the sun out of this fickle, pointless, incredible obsession, there are dreamers out there, dreamers who dream not with their eyes shut, in their beds, but with them open, in the deep woods, on the big stone, or some tiny, unknown little chunk of rock lost deep in the forest. I think about you, sometimes, while I’m hanging there on hooks, gingerly pulling up the drill while flakes fall away, or working through some demanding sequence between clips, or laying hundreds of feet of trail for hours, piling stone and moving dirt, cutting and placing logs, marking the way.

And as hard as it may be to believe this, as much as I chew on you and rage at you and smash at the feet of your sacred cows, I actually believe in you, from all these many years down the road beyond my own folly, when the convenience of sheer numbers makes it easy to forget being young and proud, headstrong and reckless, hungry and open. 

Even with all the blah, blah, blah that makes up most of the magazines, ezines and forum space these days, I can feel you there, just the other side of the page, dreaming of long, clean lines, of hard, steep moves, or of just clipping that next bolt, someday.

You hear the green song while everyone else is racing down the trail, hell-bent for leather to be first. You know the peace of being last on the trail, and the serenity of that first moment, alone at a new belay, with a new climb behind you still ringing in your soul; a rope's length above your partner and the world and light-years from all the crap that clogs the gears and weighs you down.

And you're doing incredible things. 

You climb sooner, faster, stronger, and better than we ever did, and you genuinely seem to be trying to rediscover (or at least reinvent) community and true love for each other. You're pushing into the big hills and the hard numbers routinely, and that's one of the things that stir me to the keyboard. For all my hard bark, and despite the likelihood that few of you will give enough of a shit about what an old climber thinks about anything to give this a second‘s glance.

So enough preamble, I guess we're gonna dance or fight, one of the two, so we might as well get it on.

You're fallin' down on the job. You crank hard and you dress really cool but you're sloppy and careless and self-centered to a fault even in this narcissistic sport.

(And no, this is not that "When I was your age we walked ten miles to school through burning hail, uphill both ways, and when we got home they beat us and killed us," crap... this is me, talking to you. Thanks for your time... I won't keep you much longer, I swear...)

Facts is facts, and the fact is that we did (and still do) put up the new routes, keep what few animals we ever had about in close check, and manage to not only build but routinely maintain the trail system at several crags, for years. Decades, even...

All while holding down jobs requiring at least forty hours per week (in those days I averaged sixty-plus) and commuting at least an hour each way (in my case two and a half), and tending to all the sundry crap that life will try to tack on you in the years between your age and mine.

You buy crap guidebooks. Too many members of the climbing press have been printing minimal information and sending the masses hither and yon for years now, creating impact and land issues and cutting and pasting the same mealy-mouthed obligatory crap from rip-off to rip-off. Leave no trace... unless it's on a crag located on delicate access land that no one bothers to mention. Respect the earth, but not the climbers whose work they are stealing to make money we never see a dime of. 

Ask the people at the crag who put up the lines. If they can't tell you, find someone who can.

Any guidebook that doesn't list first ascentionists is crap.  Period.

You want a mini-guide, call it that... but don't leave out the history of the routes and crag to avoid admitting that you stole the info instead of meeting the people and finding out their stories.

It's your history... and you're letting it slip away. People like me (and even a few nice ones, as well) are out there putting up lines, building trails, carving out crags you'll never hear about. Because they've seen what happens.

At Franklin. At Hidden Rocks. At Muir Valley and Joe’s Boulders, Oak Creek Overlook, Paradise Forks, Jack's, the Supes.

The word goes out and people come, regardless of how many cars are there when they arrive, because they just gotta be on the scene. Gear left on projects gets stolen, and projects get worked with the red tags still dangling.

And those who came for something that they cannot name pack their gear and move on to the next lost corner, in search of something that exists in moments of fear and wonder, a song that speaks in silence and the sound of the river, a calligraphy of shadows and stone.

We're mostly working class citizens who spend hundreds of hours and thousands of hard-earned bucks (yes, thousands... priced a new rack, rope, battery drill, aid gear, and health insurance policy lately?) over the course of decades.

We put time and love, sweat and blood into the routes that climbing shop hard persons routinely talk crap on, downgrade, and misname. Which is like having one of your relatives repeatedly call you by the wrong name at a family picnic... after a while, that crap kinda gets on your nerves.

That is why I'm here, trying to keep a little of the beta stream unpolluted and complete, and potentially wasting an hour I’ll never get back to make a fool of myself, given my long and checkered past of internet feuds and hostilities, shouting at an invisible audience scattered miles and years away from me in time and space.

So what?  

I’ve wasted more time on lines that didn’t go and partners that didn’t show.  

For what it's worth;

Get involved. Ask questions. Introduce yourself to climbers you don't know... who knows, you might meet someone who put up the routes that you love. Climb with new people. Go to Park Service meetings and Access Fund Rendezvous, and do more while you are there than get autographs and beta to the latest super-secret, cutting edge destination.  Find out what they are fighting, where, how they are organizing, what is a real issue and what works in resolving those issues. They are your crags, and your responsibility.

Dig into the stories you aren’t hearing or reading about.  If your dollars support the big organizations, your voice needs to one of those to direct its course.  We've left you a legacy... the same one the generation just before left to us. We haven’t done the best by you, by any means, and out government has done less for all of us, to an even greater degree. 

Of course, the last generation didn't collect a tax from every dime you earn, but your dear Uncle Sam does, without fail.  Now is your time to prove yourselves worthy, to claim your birthright.  Ask hard questions, and accept no easy answers from the people and agencies that run your public lands, the people who lease away your old growth forests and whose quest for insuring gigantic corporate profits have trumped their mission to preserve our unique ecology and irreplaceable history, as well as their responsibility to local communities and their economies.  

There are good rangers and workers in the system, few and far between as they are. Find the good souls out there in that incredible juggernaut of a system and do what you can to sidestep the bureaucracy and incompetence to make things happen. 

Before you get together over latte’s and congratulate each other for saving an acre of grid-bolted sport climbing or gruesomely overhanging boulders back here in the east, remember that there are still battles to fight. Crags to save, destruction to halt.

Multinational corporations in the Dripping Springs Mountains of Arizona have unblinkingly confirmed their plans for the eventual, inevitable destruction of Apache Leap, the bouldering heaven of Oak Flats and sport mecca of Queen Creek, the incredible spires and walls of Devil’s Canyon, and the long-term vitality and economy of nearby towns. Tonto National Forest is fighting this with all the effort a broke whore expends to fight off a drunken college boy with ready cash.

This land has been privately owned under the protections of the original Mining Act, while across the United States far less historically-significant landmarks have been taken from families to create public lands. Isn’t it time for the government to reclaim it from foreign corporations with no goal of preservation in one of the most ecologically sensitive areas in America?

The destruction predicted is based on mining practices that would be illegal for an American corporation operating on American soil.  They are quite simply the most destructive way possible to mine the region.  The proposed land swap and freeway development (meaning even further ecological mayhem and denied access), both intended to mask the extent of the destruction, are supported by several state and Congressional representatives, all invoking the sacred cows of jobs and economic development (aka more taxes to play with during their careers.)

This is huge, folks.  Don’t just post this on Facebook or send a check.  Contact Congress, kick-start the Access Fund, scream at the Sierra Club and the American Alpine Club, then get out, picket, chain yourself to some equipment or a gate, get arrested, whatever it takes to drawn the public’s attention and get involved in the fight. 

They are our crags and our lands. Our heritage and legacy.

Our responsibility. 

It starts with the little things.

There is a relatively small but enormously popular crag on private land at the edge of Franklin, West Virginia that is sliding away into eroded oblivion as I sit here typing; a place where Access Fund members have been bringing their dogs and friends and climbing for over 20 years.  

But it wasn't Access Fund members who organized or paid for the first Franklin Trail Daze, it was a non-member, something that has been true for all but one of the trail work events we held there from 2007 through 2010.

It wasn't the Access Fund's Regional Coordinator who reached out from the distant city of Seneca Rocks to contact those landowners, but a working carpenter who climbed there on the weekends and shopped at Kemper's Grocery, the tiny store at the end of the road leading to the crag.

Because it doesn't take a title, or the ability to climb 5.12; it takes the willingness to ask and listen, to see beyond your prejudices and the online resume.

In an age when climbers have no problem driving into Mexico or the ends of the earth and interacting with the locals, this small family business offered cold beer, snacks, and a window into the local community, and a contact point with the landowners.

Climbers who had been to Thailand and braved the highway banditos of the Sonoran desert, their eco-vehicles proudly displaying "Shop Local, Think Sam's Club", stayed away in droves. 

"That place looked sketchy." I was told.

I've been to Mexico, the bad side of Juarez and some places that made that look like suburbia, and I can tell you that Kemper's didn't hold a candle to what real "sketchy" looks like.

In fact, I never remember seeing very many other local climbers in the store at all, although it was always clean and the people were always friendly. Bob was a mechanical genius at repair, and Shirley kept some of the nicest plants to be found outside of a professional greenhouse.

But even locals had come under the spell of convenience and "organic farming", loading up at "farmers' markets" dominated by commercial greenhouses, shopping for bulk discounts at package stores, staying in campgrounds run by out-of-state concessionaires and in general exploiting every resource of the location without the need to spend a dime at local businesses.

Those businesses watched with a sort of detached calm as the city folks poured by, never spending a penny more than they had to in order to use the restrooms or get in out of the rain; demanding, condescending, self-centered, entitled, unconcerned and unaware of the people they walked right over in their quest for fun.

They did their best to help and please people who came uninvited to walk across their lands, who laughed at them and ridiculed the only life the people of the mountains were allowed, when wealth flowed away, always away from the mountain state.

Kemper's is gone now, just another place that has finally been ignored to death by the masses of climbers who have no clue that these are the people who actually owned a portion of the land on which they were trespassing.

Land trades hands, property lines are redrawn and the advocates and community have no clue.

There's a lot of talk about why the Access Fund members and administrators, the much-ballyhooed Jeep Discount Sales and Conservation Team and all those headline-happy affiliates can't do trail work on private land, despite having no problem climbing there or sending other people to do so by the carload.

But there is no whisper of an explanation why those heavily-funded paragons of impact control can't work on the trails that cross public lands.

After all, despite being home to any number of AMGA certified professionals who profess LNT principles and espouse green living lifestyles, it isn't the members of the Access Fund that maintain trails right over the hill in Seneca Rocks.

And it hasn't been the Access Fund out here, on the ground, replacing anchors and rebuilding the trails at Franklin, Reed's, and throughout Smoke Hole for the last twenty years.

Maybe they just don't know how to start.

Let me help you, fellas... I've done this sort of thing before.

(After all, it wasn't until after I started writing about traveling the United States doing trail work that you created your Conservation Teams, was it?)

It's simple;

If you move two stones on the trail and pick up two pieces of trash every time you go climbing, and if all your friends do too, you'll be amazed at what you can do in just a month. 

Don't just seek to empower climbers, but widen your focus; support and reach out to the people in the communities surrounding the climbing areas, as well.  Aren't they as worthy of your compassion and support as any war or drought or storm refugee in another land?

Work to make the climbing community a part of the larger community in which we travel and play while others live and work. Make sure the leaders of your advocacy groups lead by example; finding, contacting, and then respecting the rights and wishes of landowners, informing their membership of issues and decisions, ALL of the issues and decisions.

If the Coordinators don't coordinate and the Presidents don't make decisions, get rid of them and find someone who will.

If you can't find anyone, try taking it on yourself. 

And then they really will be "your" crags, because you're not just visiting, anymore... you're making all of it a part of you, and becoming part of it all.

It's not brain surgery or astrophysics.  I mean, even Mike Gray can figure it out.

Okay.... 'nuff said.  I want to thank you for your time, and your love of the sport I also love so very much. 

Be strong, stand proud, question everything, try everything, give lots of hugs, take lots of pictures, keep a journal, pull hard and don't be afraid to fall, in life or on the stone. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Poison Fruit

Got to Franklin today to find three new, signed "NO Hunting or TRESPASSING" signs.

They haven't put up a new sign in the last decade, but after five years of no action from the AF/MACC- voila! Not only new signs, but signs with the name of a corporation, not a family, on them.  

Deja vu, anyone?

Congratulations, Access Fund and Mid-Atlantic Climbers Coalition- your policy of "don't ask, don't tell, don't stop climbing there but don't work on the trails" seems to be bearing the poison fruit I predicted.

You mothers must be very proud.... 

Start all the educational programs you want (with a company that makes its cams in China), partner with macho Jeep (the only car manufacturer that doesn't have a successful hybrid), do your best to spin control this... your people are pissing away more access than even you can buy, every hour of every day.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

'Tis the Season, Again

Please remember that hunting season has begun in West Virginia.  Muzzle loaders/black powder and bow seasons begin or have already commenced this month.

It was as much through hunting as through hiking that I discovered the forest, first felt wonder and reverence for that singing green shadow as a tween becoming a young man.

Hunting, done wisely and well, is necessary in today's ecosystem, as the predators who once filled this niche slowly recede into memory, still surviving in a few open ranges and preserves in the west.  Our own eastern wolf is gone, the cougar and mountain cats of legend hunted to near-mythic status, bobcats ranging in small packs in only the most desolate of spots, and bear have been chased down to small, sleek creatures half the size of their ancestors, who eat more berries than meat.

In short, white tail deer have few or no natural predators, and as a consequence, the tasty varmints are everywhere.  Because West Virginia is crisscrossed by roads frequented by logging trucks, working parents and NASCAR fans, more deer (and occasionally people) die from auto injuries than gunfire or arrow. Living in West Virginia requires special insurance due to the number of deer damage claims.

I grew up with a great generation of hunters and we saw the loud, drunken camps, the idiots and the dangerous morons who would leave a waste stream a mile wide through Eden itself. For every one of those examples, I knew a dozen conscientious hunters who left little save bloodstains and footprints, who ate all but the bones and hide, and used most of both.

Hunting is a tradition that far predates our nation, and is one of the cornerstone principles for the foundation of the National Forests. Venison is both delicious and naturally low fat, with none of the toxins or horrors associated with agribusiness "farming" of beef and poultry.

If all works out well, I'll be one of the silent invisible majority who come, do their thing, and vanish without a trace, in just a few weeks.

As ever, and in anything, what is done well, no one remembers, what is done wrong, no one forgets. Not all hunters leave a gut pile strewn with beer cans and cigarette butts at a pullout on a public road.

Please wear bright colors when you head out into our national forests, from now until January.

Remember that Franklin Gorge is private property, and stay off the top of the cliffs.

No matter where you climb, try to keep your pets close or leave them at home, make enough noise to make yourself known, maybe say hello, wish them good luck, and share the forest with folks who actually pay, in some cases, hundreds of dollars in permits and fees, and train just as rigorously as any climber, who spend as much if not more than we do on gear, just to use our public lands for whatever time they can snatch from work and life, four months out of every year.

So What's Up with the Guide and PHAR/UP?

Well, let me tell you...

PHAR/UP supplied local climbers with a grant of 50 Fixe hangers, 5-piece bolts and ring anchors for upgrade of existing anchors and new route development at Old House, in the Lower Canyon. Those same area climbers are currently working towards a grant for trails development and human waste disposal at this remote crag.

Last week, I met with Julie Fosbender, Troy Waszchy and Brandon Olinger of the Monongahela National Forest's Cheat-Potomac Ranger District, to talk about the upcoming guide and impacts.  We visited Long Branch and the Guide Wall, talked about the private property hodgepodge (the trail to the Guide Walls is on private land, the developed routes are not, the section between the developed walls is private, as is the top). We talked about the impact of other user groups like fishermen and hunters, as well as the global importance of Smoke Hole Canyon from an environmental perspective.

We drove out to Reed's Creek, were the folks from the MNF were understandably impressed with the amateur efforts of a college group from Vermont, a score of local climbers, a disabled homemaker and one toothless old curmudgeon, working without support from any national organization.

At this point, we have a great relationship with these folks.  They are excited to see climbing expanding in the forest, since climbers are perceived to be more environmentally active and aware. Our efforts to mitigate impact while respecting local landowners has given them a great example of how climbing can be.

If I sound just a bit proud, it comes from the days of paper chasing and the hundreds of phone calls it took to get here; building trails as steadily as I developed routes, maintaining a conversation with the National Forest and the landowners who were still willing to talk to climbers, building bridges to the community even as I bash away at the clay feet of their advocates and idols.

I'm discussing distribution with the publisher, and the feedback we've had from the folks who have seen the sample guide has been nothing but positive.

We're working on new designs and ironing out some wrinkles (no pun intended) in our T-shirt production and distribution, which supports a small local start-up.  Some of our Kickstarters have already seen the first efforts, if you have not, rest assured... more will be making their way to your doors in the coming days.

Registration for Hallowe'en Trail Daze continues... register before 9/30 by sending me an email at wvmgray@gmail.com

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Help us Save Blair Mountain!

Yo, climbers!

Too many mountains (over 450 of them and counting) have been erased from the landscape of West Virginia and the surrounding Appalachian States.

Now that process threatens a mountain that stands for so much more, Blair Mountain.

How would you pay tribute to a place that changed the course of the labor movement forever? 

We stand at a fork in the road where we can either protect the West Virginia mountain where coal miners fought for their right to unionize, after enduring years of abuse at the hands of both law and coal thugs. Fragmentation bombs were dropped on miners, after machine guns were used to strafe their families and homes from a flatbed railroad car.

We can remember the struggle of these people to simply be treated like human beings, and protect the mountain that stands as a monument to their fight and sacrifices.

Or we can allow Big Coal to blow the top off Blair Mountain in exchange for a simple plaque.

A plaque would not replace Yorktown, or Gettysburg.

And all the plaques on earth cannot replace one mountain.

Tell the Army Corps of Engineers that a plaque won't do. Blair Mountain is an important part of our history and deserves to be off limits to mountain top removal mining.

Find out more and send your message here: http://action.sierraclub.org/ProtectBlairMtn

Friday, September 5, 2014

Thanks to all the Kickstarters

Wow, crazy month, but just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to each and every one of the people who helped us reach our goal on Kickstarter:

Robert Abramowitz
Jon Alexander
Kristin Anderson
Ex Pow-anpongkul
Ethan Atwood
Henry Barkhausen
Jeff Baxter
Ed Begoon
Gabi Benel
Don Blume
Nicholas Borror
Dallas Branum
Brian Bridges
John Burcham
John Burkhart
Adam Byrd
Tony Canike
Cedric Capiaux
Nathan Cauffman
David Ciesla
Tommy Cockerell
Tim Collins
Sarah Cook
Joe Coover
Dennis Coyle
Jackson Crane
Kirby Crider
Josh Davidson
Garth Dellinger
Chelsea Devening
Brandon Dorman
Andrew Dotson
Rick Dotson
Gary Dunn
Brian Dziekonsky
Chris Egress
Sherry Erickson
Ryan Eubank
Morgan Falls
Mike Farnsworth
Keith Fegler
Jeremy Fox
Ryan Fishel
Lucas Fisher
Mark Folsom
Curtis Gale-Dryer
James Garner
John Gathrite
Tom Georgevits
Jackson Goss
Gilbert Gray
Charles Green
Michael Greene
Peter Guyre
Stephen Haase
John Harman
Amy Hazam
Jeanette Helfrich
Michael and Liz Horlick
Eric Horst
John Huber
Alexander Hypes
Collin Jenkins
Stephanie Jesteadt
Adam Johnson
Andrew Johnson
Steve Jones
Jude Kalet
John Kelbel
James Kim
Jeff Koelemay
Takuto Lehr
George Lewis
Patrick Light
Anliko Lowman
Phil Lutz
Hung Ly
Connie Magee
Kristan Markey
Joshua McVeigh
Paul Meehan
David Mitchell
Aaron Moses
Ian Nathan
Ryan Nelling
Jennifer O’Brien
Mark O’Neal
Ted Plaase
David Raines
Eduardo Ramirez
Scott Ransom
Aaron Ray
David Riggs
Chris Riha
Milas Robertson
Danny Rowand
Regina Schulte-Ladbeck
Eric Seme
Corey Shaw
Lisa Shepherd
Thomas Shifflett
Kelly Shipp
Brian Skarda
Todd Sleeman
Doug Smith
Douglas D. Smith
Craig Spaulding
Ronnie Stadtfeld
Jerry Stankunas
Zachary Stone
Lisa Storey
Greg Sudlow
Paul Sullivan
Andrew Suter
Christopher Sweet
Donovan Sweet
Samuel Taggart
Matt Thomas
Joe Thompson
John Tung
David Turk
Voltaire Valle
Frank Velez
Corey Vezina
Johnathan Wachtel
Josiah Weeks
Rachel Wills
Sigmund Young
Sofia Zarfas
Lester Zook

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Save the DATE! Hallowe'en weekend Trail Daze: Reed's Creek

Make your plans now to join the Potomac Highlands Anchor Replacement/Upgrade Program (PHAR/UP) on Hallowe'en weekend, Friday, October 31st through Sunday, November 2nd, 2014, a weekend of community, trail work, clean-up and climbing.

Limit 20 people, so sign up now!

Depending on the weather, PHAR/UP will reserve a Smoke Hole campsite, or two cabins at Thorn Springs 4-H Camp just south of Franklin, for the use of our volunteers. We will be supplying hot grub and cold refreshments while handing out Smoke Hole T-shirts, Owlfeather jewelry and other prizes to those who attend.

We'll also raffle off a new guidebook, to be delivered to your door when they come back from the publisher in December.

Respond in the comments section of this post or email wvmgray@gmail.com to reserve your spot.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Congratulations, Tyler Hall and Josh Light!

Yesterday, while walking around looking for hard climbers on steep lines and enjoying just showing yet another person around wonderland, we bumped into a couple of climbers who were wandering around, looking for the crags.

They climbed out of their cars with huge grins, and the first words I heard were "Are you Mike Gray?"


We spent the next hour and a half wandering around the Entrance Walls and Reed's Creek, talking about a lot of things and planning on hooking up this morning.

Today, celebrating my wife Cindy's birthday with a few hours of climbing, we were fortunate enough to witness something precious and rare: a first recorded ascent, a trad line done ground up on-sight by two young climbers on their first visit to a "secret" crag. 

The young lions were already up and cranking when we arrived.

The crack that climbs out of the cave at the end of Reed's Creek was climbed early this morning in a single push by our new friends Tyler Hall, who crushed the onsight and Josh Light, who powered through and cleaned the line; two up-and-coming hard men currently paying their dues to careers and dealing with the NoVA groove, who broke away for the weekend to discover some of our new rock. Whether done in the past or not (and evidence said "not"), the line was done in classic fashion today.

Pointed at an unknown, they jumped on it and sent in fine style, running out the final two hidden headwalls of 5.8 climbing with no gear in about 45 feet. The combination of rock color and a refreshing dip of peach snuff at the top produced the name "Bring me Something Peachy".  

Proud effort by a couple of genuinely nice guys.

Josh (L) and Tyler (R), fresh down from a first known ascent and a series of exploratory climbs, ready to just clip some bolts and relax for the afternoon, while Gracie searches for another great napping spot.

Watch for more from these two in the future... 

Call it a hunch.

Friday, August 29, 2014

In The Beginning

March 2nd, 2007: The Punishers begin construction of the current high-speed trail to replace the eroded otter slide everyone was using to reach the cliffs of Franklin. 

At that point, the crag had existed for just over 17 years, about as long as another popular idea, the Access Fund, which, despite the grassroots, working-class image sold to the public, was actually a spin-off of the American Alpine Club, an international organization with a vast web of contacts and resources.

After years of reading press releases and watching as work seemed to go on at every other crag in the nation, two local climbers who were not members of the club had finally had enough.  Tools were gathered, food stores and supplies laid in, and two guys who actually are working class folks took time off from their carpentry jobs, stocked up on PowRBars and gels, tuna and pasta, then gave up a month of weekends to build trail for a climbing community comprised, for the most part, of Access Fund members who apparently hadn't noticed or cared to acknowledge the need for action.

Working from Friday nights through Monday mornings for most of the month of March, we laid in rails, stacked stone, and did what two people could to shore up a game trail and address the impact of hundreds of feet. 

We often climbed at night, by headlamp, so we could work during the day, although Fisher could crank off a hard line or three and then build trail all day, coffee by his side, before grabbing a snack and a nap and sending again in the twilight.

Mike Fisher takes a break from building trail to enjoy a rare moment of daylight climbing on Potential Energy.

The Master, in his element.

B.P.- Before the arrival of the Punishers, this is what the trail to "Raised by Sasquatch" looked like.

The base of Castaways, possibly the most popular and obviously the most impacted climb at Franklin.  Despite three different groups covering the adjacent area with mulch, side rails, plants, even marking tape, climbers have reduced the belay area and trail to this state once again...

Although we built in steps and rails, mulched and planted, there is almost no sign of our efforts today.

We did what we could: built the trails, made friends with the landowners, supported the little store at the end of the road, put up quality routes and replaced substandard gear.

Now, the torch passes to the next generation.

But this is how it was, in the beginning.